Wednesday, April 2, 2014

It's not just the market, it's the system that's rigged

Boy did Michael Lewis ever strike a raw nerve with Wall Street with the release of his new book, "Flashboys". The moment the street found out that he dared use the phrase, "The market is rigged" - the howls of protest started flooding the blogosphere and airwaves.

The original interview by 60 minutes can be found here:

Although Lewis had some other great interviews as well -

On Bloomberg

The Daily Show -

There was an epic debate/fight about HFT between Brad Katsuyama and William O'Brian, President of Bats - here that is a 'must watch' if you haven't seen it.

I've been in this business for 21 years, and it's not a shock to me to hear that the market is 'rigged'. If you don't think it is, then you haven't looked deep enough into the industry.

But is this new? Hell no. It's 'always' been rigged in favor of the big fish.

If you don't believe me then clearly you have a very poor memory.

It's an easy starting place for me - but all you need to do to proves to yourself that the market is truly rigged is look at the case of Henry Blodget. For those too young to remember, Mr. Blodget was a research analyst at Merrill Lynch who issued recommendations on tech stocks leading up to the bubble bursting.

While Blodget would say "We do not see much more downside to the shares" on a company like Excite @ Home (Sym: ATHM) in private e-mails he was saying "ATHM is such a piece of crap".

You can read about Blodget's case here:

Why would Blodget tout these companies in public while simultaneously bashing them privately? Because his company, Merrill Lynch was making vast amounts of money on the syndicate side - through IPOs, secondary offerings, bond issues, preferred issues, etc.

Was it just a bad apple deal? No - it was industry wide.

How about a more recent example?

Goldman Sachs creating "Abacus" with the help of John Paulson - who hand picked the mortgages that went into the pool. But what they didn't tell the clients that they were selling Abacus to was that Paulson and Goldman were actively SHORTING the fund with their own money..

So after the crisis Goldman had to pay some fines - but admitted no wrong doing.. and the dust settled.

There is also the case of Wall street firms fixing the price of Libor, or forex, or oil prices..

HSBC was busted laundering drug money -

all while they pay themselves massive bonuses.

And still people say the market isn't rigged?


It may sound stupid but I am of the belief that if you see something going on that is unethical or illegal - you need to do all you can to correct it. If it's going on in your office you tell your manager, if they do nothing, you tell the regional manager, if they do nothing - you go directly to the CEO. If they do nothing, you become a whistleblower and talk to the regulators. If THEY do nothing (a la Bernie Madoff and Harry Markopoulis) then you go to the media.

Looking the other way is NOT an option in my book.

But what in the hell do I know, I think the market's rigged.